Brandon Hynes is shown as a member of the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors.
©— Photo courtesy Greenville Road Warriors
You can’t accuse Brandon Hynes of quitting when things were going bad.
In fact, this week, when the 21-year-old from Norris Point decided to walk away from professional hockey, he was in the middle of a five-game point-scoring streak, a season team high for the Greenville, N.C., Road Warriors, and was his club’s leading scorer.
“I’m not leaving on a low. This was done while I was playing well,” he said.
Hynes, who had been 20 games into his first pro season, will enroll at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., after Christmas.
“It’s not something that a lot of people would have expected, I guess,” said Hynes of his decision.
But it was hardly one that came out of nowhere, he said. He began picking the brains of various confidants six weeks ago, his future firmly on his mind, wondering which route he should take and what he should do.
“Pretty much every person I talked to, it came back to ‘You’re going to be a person longer than you’re going to be a hockey player,’” he said. “If you have no education, it’s going to be a tough job to get yourself a decent living.”
In North Carolina, Hynes was making the minimum for a rookie, which, according to the league’s website is $400 per week. And with nothing to fall back on, he was experiencing anxiety over whether he was playing well enough or if he was ever going to get another chance in the American Hockey League (he had attended the training camp of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack this fall).
“It’s so much easier to see here, when you play with a lot of guys over 25, they have their degrees,” she said. “They’re playing stress-free, they have nothing to worry about. They just keep playing hockey because they love to play.”
Road Warriors coach Dean Stork heard rumblings of Hynes’s desire to leave and met with the young forward. The meeting was emotional, but not unpleasant, according to Hynes
“I threw it all out there,” he said. “I wasn’t going to lie to him.
“I can’t say anything bad about the way he treated me. He gave me a lot of opportunity, but obviously, school won.”
Hynes apparently isn’t the only Road Warrior who made the decision to put aside a pro career for school. Forward Guillaume Asselin is also leaving Greenville to go to university.
Hynes’ last game with Greenville was Sunday. His stats line with the Road Warriors shows 14 points (seven goals and seven assists) in 20 games and a minus-five rating.
His contract has now been terminated and he has been suspended by the club, a necessary piece of protocol so Hynes — or anyone else in a similar position — couldn’t simply decide to sign with another ECHL team after orchestrating an exit from a struggling franchise.
“I enjoyed my time here, but I realized it was coming down to decision time,” he said. “That’s when I got my head away from the game a little bit, started having a little bit of fun with it ... and that’s when I started to play well.
“It’s a competitive, tough league to play in,” he added. “Definitely a good taste of the pro game, but obviously not where you want to be. It’s a starting point.”
Hynes played five seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, four with the Victoriaville Tigres and an overage year split between the Val d’Or Foreurs and Acadie-Bathurst Titan. A result — and through success in school during his junior career — he built up post-secondary education credits through the QMJHL’s bursary program.
To use the bursary, a player must embark on full-time studies within a year following the end of his junior career.
“I have four years of bursaries I can access once I go to school,” said Hynes, adding he has to maintain scholastic standards in order to keep receiving the money.
He also said he has an athletic scholarship on the table from St. Francis Xavier University, whose men’s hockey lineup already includes forward Robert Slaney of Upper Island Cove and defenceman Josh Day of St. John’s. Goulds native Brad Peddle is the team’s head coach.
The second half of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey season starts on Jan. 3. The X-Men (7-6-1) are third place in the AUS standings and will be hosting the 2015 Canadian Interuniversity Sport University Cup hockey championship.
“That’s where you want to be,” Hynes said. “That’s going to be against some high-quality opponents.”
Academically, he’ll wade in with four courses of general studies in an effort to find something that grabs him. And instead of hockey being a stress inducer, Hynes believes the game he loves will once again serve as the exact opposite for him.
“Going to the rink for practice is the fun in your day,” he said. “The getaway from school and the books.”
Once he earns his degree, Hynes said he’ll take another hard look at being paid to play hockey, whether it be back in the ECHL or somewhere overseas.
“When I come back to this lifestyle, this pro game, it’s going to be with a degree in my pocket,” he said.
The Western Star
With files from The Telegram